Good morning, good day, good afternoon, good evening, good night – wherever you are, whatever you are doing, however you are feeling, take a moment to be grateful for all you have.
Christmas is three days away, and the New Year follows quickly after. The curtain is coming to a close on 2018, meaning that I’ve been reflecting a lot on what I have learned this year. Let’s take a moment to look over what I’ve done.
In April, I started to take medication for my anxiety and depression, which was a big step in humility for me. I try to do everything on my own, but in accepting the idea of medication and implementing it into my life, I learned a lot about what medication actually does, and how I can use it safely for my own good. In this month, I also visited my best friend who I hadn’t seen in two years. Though it only lasted for a few short days, I had so much more fun than I could ever describe.
In May, I had a dance recital, which truly taught me that something as difficult as performing can be the most enjoyable thing given the right environment. My technique wasn’t perfect, and I’m positive I messed up on essentially every dance I performed, but it was my best recital ever because I truly loved every moment.
In June, I visited Life Teen’s Camp Covecrest, a truly life changing week for me.
In July, I took my first plane ride alone to Florida to visit family and spend a week at the beach.
And in August, I started my senior year of high school, which is exciting and terrifying and oh so bittersweet.
Though I have had wonderful experiences this year, I would be lying if I said it has been an easy one. The everyday stresses of being an upperclassman coupled with my mental illnesses has really taken a toll on me. Despite my amazing experience at Camp Covecrest, my spiritual life has suffered a lot this year. A lot of things in my personal life have resulted in struggles for me. Thankfully, I’m blessed with amazing parents, a supportive sister, encouraging friends, and a loving community all around. While this year has been hard, these people are who have kept me afloat, even when they didn’t know I was sinking. For that, thank you. To everyone in my life.
With hardship, however, comes a life lesson that I would be foolish to overlook.
As I said in a previous blog post, I had an incredible encounter with God this summer, when He spoke these words to me: “just be.” These words became my mantra for 2018 in three main ways.
Just be with yourself: What do you do with your alone time? How do you talk to yourself when you’ve had a bad day? What expectations do you set for yourself? Self love is an extremely important form of love, and often we as broken humans don’t quite know how to choose this love. These questions are good ones to start with when wondering how to improve your relationship with yourself.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not proud of the answers to these questions. A lot of my down time is spent watching YouTube videos, scrolling through Instagram, or doing mindless activities. Often times when I have a bad day, I don’t even try to talk myself through it – I distract myself from whatever weight is resting on my shoulders by watching YouTube or scrolling through Instagram (are we sensing a theme, here?). And the expectations I’ve set for myself require me to jump through hoops, perform backflips, and are entirely unrealistic for a seventeen year old to meet. As frequently as I tell my friends to go easy on themselves and make fulfilling choices, I don’t really practice what I preach.
At the beginning of the year, I realized that I was engaging in some very unhealthy behavior. When someone or something would upset me, if I experienced stress or sadness or negative emotion of any kind, I would allow myself one to two days to feel it, then move on entirely. Something fundamentally upsetting would happen, like I would have a big argument with a friend in which they said some very unkind things to me, and I would make myself stop thinking about it after just a day or two. Any feelings that came up after that I would suppress, not letting myself feel them.
This is a great coping mechanism if you don’t care at all about your mental health and want to create unhealthy expectations for your emotions! I thought it was helping me to be more happy and carefree, but in reality, it created a heavier burden on my shoulders over time. Eventually, I got tired of doing this. I wanted to be able to wallow in sadness or anxiety. So I let myself just be with my emotions.
At first, it was painful. I wasn’t used to letting myself feel such intensely negative emotions. To be quite honest, I hated who I was when I was sad. All I saw was a self-absorbed, pitiful girl who needed to get a grip. But my exhaustion with bottling everything up outweighed this self-hatred, and I kept at it.
What I learned soon enough is that the best way to love yourself is to know who you are in all circumstances, good or bad. Don’t force yourself to feel a certain way just because you believe that’s what’s expected of you. Humans need to feel sadness in order to more deeply appreciate happiness; we need to feel anger in order to appreciate peace. When you let yourself feel whatever emotion is demanding to be felt, you will naturally overcome them in your own time.
I of course don’t recommend full-on wallowing in or dwelling on negative emotions, I just encourage you to let yourself feel them and move on in your own time.
Just be with God: In the same way that we set unreasonable expectations for ourselves, we often set expectations for God as well. We believe that He doesn’t want us at our worst, when we are so broken that we can hardly tell who we are anymore. Or we believe that He works only within the confines of our comprehension of Him.
Don’t put God in a box. God is bigger than what we can ever realize. He wants your brokenness, your helplessness, and your complete exhaustion. Just be with Him and understand that whatever you present Him will be a gift in His eyes. You don’t need to have a prayer agenda, a list of petitions that you want God to fix in your life. You don’t need to sit down and apologize for every sin you’ve ever committed. You don’t have to recite scripted prayers and hope for the best. God is with you right now and He is begging you to just be with Him.
Just be with others: As I explained in my previous post about Camp Covecrest, you should also learn how to be with others. You often have expectations for God, or don’t want to show Him the ugly parts of yourself, and it can be the same way with friends and family. Before, I touched on just being with others to learn more about them, which is so very important, but now I want to explore the subject under a different light.
When you let go of your expectations for your friends, you learn how they truly show their love for you. I’ve experienced so much joy in letting my friends show how they love me however they choose, and oftentimes it’s so much more beautiful than what I would have asked for. A short text to brighten your day, a thoughtful gift, a phone call; these really do mean a lot, and sometimes I need them more than I realize. Let your friends love you.
Lastly, show your ugly side. I know, I know, this is a scary thing. I don’t mean that you should spend every moment with someone just crying about how hard your life is, but if you’re like me, you might often find yourself being too scared to say how you really feel. Whether that’s because you’re afraid of being rejected, you don’t want to “burden” those around you, or you just plain don’t know how to express yourself, it’s not something that a lot of people necessarily enjoy doing.
I’ve learned in these past few months, however, that in telling your trusted friends about your struggles, anxieties, and feelings, you can find a real peace and companionship. You may find that instead of rejection, your friend will totally get you and make an effort to encourage you in bettering yourself. It might be a relief to them that you’re struggling with the same things they are, or just to know that you trust them enough to come to them with your problems. A lot of amazing things can happen by just being open and vulnerable with your friends.
This is the lesson I learned in 2018 – to just be in all aspects of my life. And in 2019 I hope you will join me in implementing this phrase in your life.